Abortion clinic safe access zones are signed into law – so why aren’t they up and running yet?
In May this year, abortion clinic safe access zones (also known as buffer zones) were signed into law after Parliament voted for the zones in a cross-party show of support for reproductive rights.
What is abortion clinic harassment?
Every week, 2000 people access abortion care from a clinic which has been subject to harassment. The anti-choice behaviours we see can take many forms and tends to target women.
Over the years, we have experienced them:
- calling people “murderers”
- taking photos or filming
- knocking on car windows as people arrive or leave
- banging on the clinic door, barricading the door to prevent people entering
- handing out misleading medical misinformation
What are safe access zones?
Police, local authorities, and abortion providers have explored various means of protecting those using our services. But nothing has worked.
Almost six years ago, Ealing Council introduced the first ever safe access zone in the country, around our West London clinic, following a public consultation. The zone still allows groups to make their views on abortion known but prevents them from harassing people within 300 metres of the clinic.
The zone was successful in keeping clients, clinic staff and residents safe. It was renewed after three years after another consultation found the zone to be fair and effective. Three years ago, a similar local safe access zone was introduced around our Manchester clinic.
A national problem
While we appreciate the action from local authorities in Ealing and Manchester, abortion clinic harassment is a national problem – and requires a national solution.
The right to get an abortion with privacy and dignity, free from harassment, alarm, or distress should not depend on where in the country you happen to live.
Read our blog from 2020 about why national safe access zones were needed: Why We Advocate For National Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
Working together with partners and parliamentary allies, we fought for national legislation to introduce safe access zones around all abortion clinics in England and Wales.
So why is the harassment outside our clinics still happening – and getting worse?
The Home Office has delayed “commencement” of the legislation which introduces safe access zones. The nurses, doctors and other frontline team members working in abortion care urgently need this law to be enforced – harassment outside our clinics appears to be getting worse.
Why the delay?
The Home Office has given no explanation for the delay, or a timeline.
What we do know is that the principles behind the legislation have already been legally tested.
The Ealing zone was challenged in court and was upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
A similar law, introduced in Northern Ireland by Clare Bailey, has also been upheld, this time by the UK Supreme Court, establishing a clear legal principle that safe zones are proportionate and justified.
We agree this is important to get right. We would welcome an update, a timeline, or indeed any engagement at all from the Home Office to give a clearer picture regarding when doctors, nurses, women, and anyone else accessing an abortion clinic can expect to do so safe from intimidation and abuse.
To find out more:
To read more about safe access zones and why we campaigned for national legislation, read our blogs at the links below: